- The circle of peace activists had just lit their candles
when the yelling started. "Why do you want peace?" one man screamed,
approaching the group as they held hands around a guitarist. "You
are not good Indians. We should go to war and teach Pakistan a lesson."
- While foreigners are packing up and leaving India, scared
off by the prospect of a nuclear war, Indian peace campaigners are trying
to convince their fellow citizens that a danger really exists. Evening
revellers watched in bemusement and, in some cases, anger as the activists
held banners and passed out anti-nuclear leaflets in the imposing shade
of India Gate, Lutyens's memorial to the country's war dead.
- Nisha, 26, clutching an ice cream and her toddler son,
read impassively through a leaflet calling for immediate dialogue with
Pakistan to avert the horror of a nuclear war. "Why should we worry
about this?" she said with a shrug. "India has more nuclear weapons
than Pakistan. We will wipe them off the map and win the war."
- The view may sound extreme, but it is one shared by George
Fernandes, the Indian Defence Minister, who coldly calculated that India
could survive such a strike and deliver a fatal blow to Pakistan. Scientists
have predicted that a nuclear exchange would kill 12 million people, half
of them in India, but all over the country people are baying for war, nonetheless.
About 82 per cent believe that Pakistan would use nuclear weapons in the
event of a conflict, but 74 per cent believe that India should attack.
- To activists, such statistics are terrifying. "There
is no conception among ordinary people about what a nuclear bomb would
do," Arundhati Roy, the Booker prize-winning author and activist leading
the vigil, said. "They just think it will make a louder bang."
- When India tested its first atomic weapon in 1998, the
nuclear scientists responsible were fêted like cricket heroes. No
one dared to suggest there might be a downside. There were no public service
broadcasts explaining what to do in the event of a nuclear strike, no doomsday
television dramas about a nuclear holocaust of the type that put fear into
the West during the Cold War.
- Rithin Menon, a feminist publisher, said at the rally:
"There is a tremendous reluctance to show material that is destabilising.
I don't think any television station would dare do it."
- The result is a profound ignorance about the reality
of nuclear conflict. The depth of misconception among ordinary people,
who are pushing for their Government to go to war, is alarming.
- "The bomb is some kind of gas," Lalith Kumar,
a drinks vendor, said as he served his customers iced tea from his stall
in the trendy Priya shopping district. "Farmers will be okay because
they can dig trenches to hide in. The rest of us will be annihilated."
- Gancham Gupta, a paediatrician and one of Mr Kumar's
customers, snorted into his drink in amusement. He knew much more about
nuclear weapons, he said - fall-out, radiation and so on - but still saw
little reason to be afraid. "We doubt Pakistan's capability because
their missiles are all smuggled," he said.
- "India made its own so they will work, but Pakistan's
- Anyone who tries to say otherwise is labelled unpatriotic.
When Sonia Reddy, an editorial writer, said in an anti-nuclear piece for
a national newspaper that she would build an ark for her and her family
in the event of a nuclear war, it prompted a stream of e-mails denouncing
her as a "bad Indian".
- The message is clear: you can be against the bomb or
you can be for India. You cannot be both.
- "There is a huge ambivalence about being a nuclear
power," Ms Menon said. "Very few people, even in the liberal
media, will come out against nuclear weapons." Ms Roy added: "There
is virtually no peace movement in India. That's very disturbing."
- A few publications are beginning to stick their necks
out. In its weekend edition, the news magazine India Today carried a report
describing in detail what would happen if Pakistan were to launch a nuclear
strike. Its cover shows people running in panic away from a mushroom cloud
rising over India Gate as a firestorm tears up the main street.
- But with supporters of war in full voice, such apocalyptic
scenarios may have come too late to change public opinion. "I don't
care whether I live or die - we must punish Pakistan," Mr Kumar said,
mixing up another jug of iced tea. "If it doesn't happen to me, it
will happen to my children. There should be war now and this should be
the end of it."